John Frandsen: Requiem
03 November 2014
Complete settings of the Requiem Mass by Scandinavian composers are few and far between. Rarer still are those by Danes. The most celebrated, until present day, was that completed by Berlioz protégé, Asger Hamerik.
Now, over 130 years later, John Frandsen (b. 1956) has achieved a modern milestone with his monumental setting, composed in 2010, which lasts over an hour and a half. This ‘meditative invocation of eternal rest’ is dedicated to memory of the victims of the massacre on the island of Utøya in Norway on July 22, 2011, and this premiere recording was made shortly before and immediately after the first performance, which took place on April 5, 2013.
Frandsen has marshalled his large choral and orchestral forces with a resolute mastery, clearly relishing the vivid imagery and word-painting opportunities. The Latin has been expanded by the interpolation of six strophic hymns by the Danish writer Simon Grotrian (b. 1961), their intimate commentaries providing a striking contrast of simplicity. They are sung here by Faroese rock singer Teitur Lassen, whose untrained, lightweight delivery is reminiscent of Sting’s wheezy Dowland crooning. His occasionally tentative search for notes emphasises the sense of fragility in the vocal line. Fortunately he receives first-rate support from the organist Per Salo, whose accompaniments are written in a much sophisticated style.
A cosmopolitan range of stylistic echoes and influences can be discerned. Thus there are touches of Britten in the ‘Judex ergo’ (trolling bells), with its overwhelming cries of ‘salva me’, Stravinsky’s spikiest wind voicing in the ‘Quaerens me’, and Tippett’s gestural string-writing in the ‘Lacrymosa’. The strings are also used to magical effect in the bass soloist’s ‘Qui Mariam absolvisti’ with added coolness of the marimba and harp. This movement and the filigree ‘Communio’ represent two of most deeply felt moments in the work. Of the four soloists, the mezzo-soprano Andrea Pellegrini and bass Halvor Melien share the laurels. The choruses are on spectacular form throughout, especially on the ‘Dies irae’ sections, which Frandsen treats as a demonic whirligig, complete with screams and ululations, all conjuring up a scene of violence and despair. The orchestra displays a wealth of fine soloists, including an idiosyncratic obbligato for the orchestral tuba in the ‘Tuba mirum’.
This eloquent statement deserves the widest circulation.